Iran texts warnings to women for not wearing hijab in a car in new surveillance operation

More than 300 women arrested for not wearing hijab in public places like shops, authorities said

Women shopping in the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. AFP
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Police in Iran have made more than 300 arrests in the past month after launching extra surveillance to enforce Iran's strict dress code, which requires women to wear a hijab in public places, an official told state-affiliated media on Wednesday.

Almost a million text "warnings" have been issued to women photographed in a car without a hijab, police command representative Sardar Al Mahdi told Fars news agency on Wednesday.

There have also been 301 arrests for not wearing a hijab in public places such as shops, he told the agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which enforces Tehran's hard-line rule.

Authorities launched a new smart surveillance programme last month as Tehran reacted to fierce anti-regime protests last autumn following the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody.

Fears for women's rights increased after police announced surveillance cameras would be installed to detect women in vehicles flouting the dress code.

Iran has stepped up its surveillance of women since thousands took to the streets after Ms Amini's death, rallying against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the regime that has ruled Iran for decades.

Universities are now able to bar students not wearing the hijab, while state-affiliated media often publish content promoting the hijab and chastity.

In May, Tehran's metro announced the formation of a security unit to prevent women not wearing a hijab from boarding its trains.

More than 991,000 text message warnings have been sent to women pictured in vehicles, Mr Mahdi said on Wednesday. Women found to be breaking the rules a second time will have the vehicle confiscated, and will be referred to the courts on a third occasion, he said.

Shops will also be closed if they are found to twice turn a blind eye to customers flouting the rules. More than 100,000 reports have been received from public places, the spokesman said.

Under Iran's interpretation of Sharia, imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution that put Shiite clerics in power, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. Offenders face public rebuke, fines or arrest.

Describing the hijab as "one of the civilisational foundations of the Iranian nation" and “one of the practical principles of the Islamic republic,” an Interior Ministry statement said on March 30 that there would be no retreat on the issue.

While Iran has long warned women in cars to stay covered, the new programme is the first time authorities have threatened to seize vehicles or fine offenders.

Men have told the BBC that the cameras are inaccurate, citing messages received warning them to "cover up" and sending inaccurate reports of their vehicle's movements.

Updated: June 14, 2023, 7:58 PM